One trip down Manchester memory lane for me is to check my Bhangra Beatnikz beer cocktail recipe remains on the Dishoom website.

Still there. It won best cocktail at the last Too Many Critics charity dinner held in the city with seven food writers battling it out in the Manchester Hall kitchens of the newly arrived Indian restaurant group. It was all about raising money for Action Against Hunger. If you must know, my hake moilee was also awarded best dish – mainly thanks to copious amounts of coconut milk and head chef Naved’s team holding my hand.

The date? Monday March 18. The last time I crossed the threshold of Dishoom’s latest loving homage to the Irani cafes of old Bombay (now Mumbai). Opened early last century by Zoroastrian immigrants from Iran, there were almost 400 of these cafés at their peak in the 1960s. Now fewer than 30 remained before Covid. Who knows what the future holds for them?

“Their faded elegance welcomed all: courting couples, sweaty taxi-wallahs, students, artists and lawyers. The cafés broke down barriers by bringing people together over food and drink. Bombay was more open and welcoming for their existence.”

That warm hospitality applied equally to Dishoom Manchester – even if the ‘faded’ bit was a mite more studied – until the lockdown closures.

During those barren, frightening periods I kept my passion for Dishoom’s food alive by cooking from the pages of Dishoom ‘From Bombay With Love’ (Bloomsbury, £26). With its evocative photographs and a retro design, it’s arguably the most vivid and elegant cookbook of recent times. Not just about food, it was also an eccentric travelogue about a city that has captivated me on both my visits.

I cooked from it a lot, even essaying their signature black daal via a short cut recipe that didn’t require 24 hours in the pot and much sturdy stirring. To attempt their bacon naan (pictured above with Ghanesh) seemed sacrilege, though. The home kit for that groundbreaker did tempt me, but I never ordered. Now finally when all the Dishooms – in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh – are thankfully open again, I couldn’t resist a home delivery ‘taster’ before resuming direct Dishoom fan duties. No, not as a punkah wallah, just a punter.

What a line-up that arrived on our doorstep with full instructions


Feast is the right word, a well balanced selection of Dishoom classics: House Black Daal, Mattar Paneer, Lamb Sheekh Kababs, Murgh Malai, Bhel, Kachumber, and Tawa Rotis. To accompany it there’s a bottle of Mango Lassi, and for pud a sweet, creamy Gulkand Mess. A very attractive line-up.

The whole assemblage held its own against my favourite menu kits – from Northcote, Hakkasan and Clays Hyderabadi Kitchen. Few real kitchen skills were required. Accompanying printed instructions were clear (I didn’t bother with the videos).  Preparation time was posited at 45 minutes, which was about right. They never warn you of the washing up time after!

Trying to balance grilling the lamb (Sheekh Kababs) and chicken Murgh Malai) with stove top cooking the Tawa Rotis was the only bit that got me hot under the collar (oh for a couple of chilled Bhangra Beatnikz at my elbow). Standout dish was the paneer with peas, but all the dishes felt restaurant standard and authentic, not the cobbled together, outsourced disappointments of certain home deliveries. Not naming names.

The whole package costs £60, to serve two to three people. We augmented it with our own saffron rice and a Sri Lankan coconut dal (Meera Sodha recipe) to ensure it fed four. It was more than ample. Leftovers? A stylish Dishoom tea towel and four metal skewers (for the lamb and chicken) we shall treasure.

Buy Home Feast here. You can also upgrade your kit to include a bottle of Int3gral3 Italian natural sparkling wine for an extra £20. For every kit Dishoom donate a meal to charity partner Akshaya Patra.

Summer 2021 marks two milestones in the post-industrial bubble that is Kelham Island. Cutting edge restaurant Jöro has expanded beyond its upcycled shipping container base to open a four-room boutique hotel nearby, complete with chef’s table, while the homely pub at the heart of this buzzing urban community is celebrating 40 years of just being The Fat Cat.

A maverick umbilical cord links that almost bucolic cask beer mecca, whose in-house brewery spawned the iconic Pale Rider ale, to the sleek steel (well it is Sheffield) Krynkl complex where chef Luke French has transformed the city’s culinary expectations over the past four years. It reached No.34 in the Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards (announced on August 16).

Post lockdown it seemed a good time to visit both pioneering venues. So a tram from the station (after a Thornbridge Jaipur refresher, naturally at the Sheffield Tap on Platform 1B), then across the busy Shalesmoor roundabout to a suddenly hushed warren of backstreets to establish the respective locations.

Only disappointment of a dazzling day, the Kelham Island Tavern had been forced to shut

A detour might have been in order, too, to the Kelham Island Tavern, arguably the city’s best craft beer pub venue but – sign of the times – there was a Covid-closure note on the door. Still the pre-amble ramble did allow me to soak in the atmosphere of a district that defines industrial heritage and cool renewal…

Renewal, of course, means creatives clustering in shiny new build apartments or brick-heavy warehouse conversions with a casual bar/dining scene springing up to service the influx. And occasionally big hitters show up such as Mana in Ancoats, Brat in Shoreditch or Casamia on the Bristol waterfront. Sheffield has its own contender…


One slight tremor as I entered the penumbral interior, the normal 50 covers reduced as a Covd-safe measure. Would the widening horizons of Luke French and his wife and business director, Stacey Sherwood-French impact on the core operation? Not jut th hotel project but also street food spin-offs. Fear not this was an outstanding £65 eight course lunch that ate up three joyful hours. I’m not sure I’m a fan of the building, shaped from 29 shipping containers but I am of a serving staff that included one who had a sake qualification (thanks for the New Mountain Junmai recommendation) and another who knew his way round the new Spanish wine frontiers of Ribeira Sacra and Sierra de Gredos.

Chef Luke has previously expressed his desire to “find something similar to L’Enclume or The Black Swan at Oldstead, somewhere rural we can forage in and with a smallholding to grow our own ingredients.” For the moment he’s as urban as it gets, albeit with some amazing rural suppliers. Just a Michelin Bib for the moment but the food I encountered across my tasting menu surely deserve a star. Manchester’s own Mana deserves a second, but that’s a whole other matter.

Jöro Highlights? Virtually everything, from an early introduction to Chawanmushi, a savoury Japanese custard here flavoured with smoked eel, a tiny tranche of which also featured alongside salmon roe and pancetta. Wortley wagyu rump in a tartare with celeriac and mustard was less groundbreaking but equally wonderful. I should have asked about the Wortley provenance (it’s the fabled beef of Japan but reared in South Yorkshire’s grasslands); I didn’t make the same mistake with Doncaster peas. “You’ll taste them and know why,” was the enigmatic response. Their yoking with mint and lamb fat yielded more detailed exegesis. The key to the dish was ‘lamb garum’ where lamb mince and koji had been given 10 weeks in a water bath to create a fermented base for this incredible dish. For more on garum read my recent article.

What I really loved about the whole experience was a straightforward punch of flavours, whether a pure tranche of Cornish cod on a bed of smoked haddock and creme fraiche sauce or among the desserts the stand-out strawberries with lemon verbena and organic yoghurt. You get the dedication to our own raw materials filtered through an appropriated  Japanese and Norse (hence the name) sensibility.

Stays and JÖRO Packages can be booked online via this link.


Neither of my two destinations is on the island proper, man-made in the 13th by diverting water from the River Don to power medieval mills. So a distant seed sown for the Industrial Revolution proper, the catalyst for which in Sheffield was the opening of John Crowley’s Iron Foundry in 1829, tapping into river power abundant coal and iron ore. 

If you want to get the full story visit the Kelham Island Museum, which was created 40 years ago. You can see it prize exhibition for free because the only Bessemer steel converter still in existence stands in front. This egg-shaped black hulk quickly revolutionised 19th century steel production.

Thirsty work, the industry in its heyday and pubs like The Alma just down the street of that name existed to slake those forge-driven thirsts. Then came the long slow decline of the Steel City. From the Seventies onwards recession and dereliction battered Kelham.

It took a brave man to acquire the Alma, change its name to the ironic Fat Cat and start brewing his own exceptional beer in the yard. 

That was the grand plan of Dave Wickett, the new co-owner. The pub introduced Sheffield to a cavalcade of guest beers and by 1990 when Dave took sole control he created his own Kelha Island Brewery in the beer garden. The pub survived flooding in 2007; the level is charted on the exterior alongside that of the The Great Sheffield Flood of 1864. It survived Dave’s early death and is still brewing in premises across the street.

In 2004 their flagship beer Pale Rider was voted Supreme Champion Beer of Britain at The Great British Beer Festival. It has hardly been off the hand pull ever since, though a recent month’s hiatus perturbed devotees.

Matthew Curtis, in his highly recommended new survey, Modern British Beer (CAMRA Books, £15.99) descrIbes Pale Rider thus: “There was some malt character in the flavour, soft and candy-floss sweet, but only fleetingly. This allowed a crescendo of hop to build with notes of candied orange peel to the fore, but they were restrained throughout with a balanced bittersweet finish forming at the end of this orchestral flourish. 

A touch flowery but a good summary of my ‘aperitif’ experience before lunch over at Jöro. Old meets new in one memorable Kelham Island afternoon.

There’s a fascinating interview in hospitality bible The Staff Canteen, where chef/patron Steven Smith explains how he has adapted The Freemasons at Wiswell for these difficult staffing times. 

We hadn’t read it when we rolled up for lunch at this exemplary gastropub on the fringes of the Ribble Valley. In retrospect it gives a valuable insight into our experience – which was very rewarding. Step forward the Wild Boar Bolognese, Hand Rolled Beetroot Rigatoni, Pickled Walnuts, Aged Parmesan that had me squealing with excitement.

A complimentary Isle of Wight Tomato Tea with a herby whipped curd cone was a delight

It’s a new starter on the remarkable value set lunch (£22 for two courses, £27 for three, also available early evening). ‘Cutting your cloth’ isn’t usually a benchmark for improvement but on the lunch evidence a serious kitchen rethink has paid off.

Steven Smith has adapted his regime to make the kitchen run more smoothly and help his staff’s well-being

He explains in the article: “We always were very mise en place heavy and then service was kept smooth, crisp and clean. but now we have more staff working Monday to Friday doing preparation than we have staff doing Saturday Sundays actually cooking.”

Not only has this helped them redress staffing issues… “We’re also cooking better than we ever have, we’ve slimmed down the menu, we’ve really thought about simplifying a lot of dishes and it’s made the food better.

“The food still has the same Freemasons touch and feel, we haven’t turned away from that, we’re still using all the same sauces we’ve always used and the concept of the dishes is the same, we’ve just refined it and taken a lot of stuff off the plate that didn’t need to be there.”

You’d have to road test the a la carte to properly confirm this. Certainly in the past Steven has seemed to be driven by Michelin aspirations and it has seemed unfair that many of his peers below the Freemasons in the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs list have secured a star. 

To celebrate 10 years at Wiswell, in summer 2019 Smith took the place up a notch with a big investment. Four luxury bedrooms were attached plus a state of the art kitchen as the hub of a new dining experience called ‘Mr Smith’s’… Here’s my glowing report on our stay for Manchester Confidential.

Our return is more back to basics, but what basics. A running thread through the meal is the vivid presence of in-season peas and broad beans. ‘Summer greens’ feature in a velouté starter and a complimentary Isle of Wight Tomato Tea (with its cute cones of whipped curd and herbs). Equally chlorophyll-rich are the simple accompaniments to a roast salmon loin – samphire, dill and an exquisite green forager’s sauce.

French style peas (not mushy) form a base with a mint sauce for my wife’s Suet Pudding with an unctuous filling of Herdwick Lamb Shoulder, while my rival main dunks Loin of Whitby Cod in a sharp vegetable and herb nage that’s a whole intense harvest of those peas and broad beans. No greens were apparent in that debutant Wild Boar, but it was the true star of the show. 

This half portion of chocolate device was enough – it was decadently rich

We stuck with the two courses but then shared a hard-to-resist Dark Chocolate Delice (£12.95) from the a la carte, a blackcurrant sorbet and cherries giving it a deconstructed Black Forest feel.

The Freemasons Menu, a model of deconstruction in it own right? We like it.

Freemasons at Wiswell, 8 Vicarage Fold, Wiswell, nr Clitheroe, BB7 9DF. 01254 822218.

Admission: I’ve got a thing about angels. From binge-watching Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire to a treasured print of Marc Chagall’s Jacob’s Dream with its striking Seraphim enmeshed in the battle between good and evil… I’m smitten. Maybe less so with Robbie Williams and his angelic vision.

Still one chunk of Angel’s lyrics strikes a heavenly chord: “I sit and wait/Does an angel contemplate my fate/And do they know/The places where we go/When we’re grey and old?”

The answer, in this grizzled food lover’s case, is back to the Angel at Hetton. Our Own Private Angelo, in another age, when it staked a claim to being the nation’s first ‘gastropub’. Well ahead of The Eagle in Farringdon, one much-touted contender.

The surrounding Dales countryside looks little changed from the Nineties when this was a regular foray but, pulling off road, we notice all the roseate creepers have been purged from the inn frontage and the signage is now a discreet ‘Angel’ and a Michelin star insignia.

We park next to a silver Jaguar F-Type convertible, which may signal the presence of pop royalty for lunch. Or his Satanic Majesty. We never find out. It’s the weather that has us dazzled. If memory serves, it rained incessantly in Yorkshire between September 1996 and April 1999. Today, July 19, 2021 offers the dry heat of Provence in high summer and the Hetton village limestone is all honeyed Luberon in the glare.

The Angel interior, reassuringly well-ventilated, is cool and grey. Like me, only with better manners. Yet it does not feel stuffy. Staff are young but properly drilled. This means a Kir Royale (for birthday girl whose treat this is) and a water bowl (for Captain Smidge, the panting chihuahua) are swiftly brought. It’s touch and go which of the pair will have the prime share of a lamb main in this dog-friendly establishment. 

Restaurant and bar area are both being used for meals, a la carte or tasting menu, to  maximise covers while spacing out tables. It’s done well. The attention to detail will carry over into the food. We are here because Michael Wignall is here. 

Wignall is one of the star chefs that have contributed recipes to Lancashire Diamond, celebrating 60 Years of Wellocks

A chef not given to self-publicity but among the profession a legend. Not so much for his one-time consultancy role with Hotel Football when Gary Neville gave this Preston-born United fan the opportunity to create Nev’s Noodles and a black-pudding sausage roll (both splendid but maybe the punters weren’t ready for umami and the like). 

The rest of his career path, though, reads like a road map of New British Cuisine with two star tenures at The Latymer and Gidleigh Park. We last tasted his fastidious food, with a hint of Japanese influence, when he guested at Northcote’s 2016 Obsessions festival.

Two years later the Angel became the first restaurant of his own, the ambitious transformation made possible by a partnership with friends James and Josephine Wellock, top end catering produce suppliers.

We watched all this from afar as the pandemic narrowed all our dining out opportunities but noted the swift recognition of a Michelin star and a meteoric rise in the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs list. Until this mellowest of Mondays it remained on a bucket list as I persuaded myself the joys of labour intensive home cooking could more than compensate for a proper restaurant experience.

Which brings us – as some seriously cute amuse bouches reach the table, prompting explorative sniffs from The Captain on his cushion – to why we first patronised this off the beaten track drovers inn that dates back to the 15th century (though the oak beams and other ‘original’ features are 17th).

It’s all down to Moneybags. No, not the kind that helps fund Jaguars. As far inland as you can get in our realm and fish specials were the lure. Owner Dennis Watkins would chalk catches of the day up on a blackboard but the one constant was a little filo parcel in a pool of lobster reduction. The full name, ‘Little Moneybag of Seafood’.

The barn complex across the road houses some of the Angel’s en suite accommodation

Simple pleasure that it sounds now, yet it became a kind of signature dish of the Watkins dynasty that began in 1983 and turned The Angel into an unexpected foodie destination. The family kept going when Dennis died in 2004, just after an expansion into a former barn had created bedrooms and a ‘wine cave’. A decade ago its reputation was still high enough to merit a visit from Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in the original series of The Trip.

Chefs came and went. One former private chef to Donna Karan with a back story in the Turks and Caicos introduced his own silver hake satay and other innovations but when Moneybags orders dipped the writing was on the wall.

A bottle of Chinon, lightly chilled Cabernet Franc, is now at my elbow, alongside a freshly baked sourdough loaf with parsley and lovage butter. I’m driving the birthday girl home so I just get to sniff and have two very modest glasses. There was never a chance of staying over. Across the land the places you’d love to stay at are fully booked up until well into the autumn. It doesn’t stop me dreaming of a siesta, dinner and a next day Wignall breakfast followed by a dog walk over Rylstone Edge before the heat gets too intense. One day.

Never go back? Sometimes it’s good to. Hetton in high summer has just offered a slice of heaven.


There is a £75 tasting menu We chose three courses from the a la carte, which came with inevitable extras, including an intense pre-main mini chicken in ramen broth, a perfect little sourdough ‘pain’ with parsley and lovage butter plus dreamy petits fours. It cost £70 each.

Arctic Char

Pleasingly fatty, troutlike tranche in rich shrimp butter, cut through by gooseberry; kohlrabi and razor clam adding texture. 


A fan of lightly marinated raw Scottish scallop is given the freshest of treatments. Frozen buttermilk, peas and cucumber are natural allies. A slash of charcoal and a scattering of Ocscietra caviar on th buttermilk is the masterstroke.


A triumph of sourcing and restraint on the plate. Cumbrian loin and belly, blobs of celeriac puree, barbecued gem lettuce and leek with an earthy undertow from hen of the wood.


So a Norfolk quail, ethically reared by the same enterprising East Anglian farm that supplied the Norfolk poussin on the menu at Michelin soulmate Northcote. The quail is the base for an elaborate combo of breast with bitter dandelion, a leg paired with a veal sweetbread, miso/sunflower oil on the side. Artichoke dice and winter truffle all contribute to a very special dish.


The obvious birthday treat across the table, featuring a steamed sponge and cherries, alongside an Orelys bronze chocolate base topped by sugar snaps, frozen estate dairy milk and more cherries. I had no chance to explore further since it was devoured so swiftly.


Aerated parfaits I can do without, even flavoured with my favourite, verbena. Otherwise there was much to admire in the yoking together of strawberries and their distant wild cousins, pineberries with olive oil and yogurt.

The Angel at Hetton, near Skipton BD23 6LT. 01756 730263. Mon, Fri, Sat and Sun lunch 12pm-2pm, dinner 6.30pm-8.30pm; Thu dinner 6.30pm-8.30pm. Closed Tue and Wed. Under the new regime there are now 15 en-suite rooms – on the first floor, in a neighbouring cottage and across the road in the Fell View Barn, which once housed the ‘wine cave’. Two dog-friendly rooms are available, with doggy bed and bowls provided, while dogs are allowed to join their owner for meals in the normal bar area. 


Devonshire Arms Brasserie, Bolton Abbey

Two decades ago the peripatetic Wignall was chef at the Devonshire Arms’ showcase restaurant, the decidedly formal Burlington. In complete contrast is the venerable hotel’s second dining spot, a riot of candy-striped upholstery and ‘bold’ artworks on white-washed walls. The plan had been to lunch on the pop-up terrace next to the helipad but the weather wasn’t Hettonesque, so the perpetually sunny Brasserie it was. It shares the commitment of the Burlington to fine raw materials, Try the torched house cured salmon with beetroot, pickle and horseradish, followed by lamb rump with lentils, tomato mint, Yorkshire fettle, green olives, spring greens and pan jus. 3 courses £35, 2 courses £28.

The Fleece at Addingham

Just a couple of miles down the road from Bolton Abbey and Wharfedale has become Airedale. Cars thunder into Ilkley along the A65 bypass, leaving Addingham village relatively serene. Its best pub has twice come back from the dead after being gutted by an arson attack in 2015, then shut after Joycelyn Neve’s Seafood Pub Co, which expensively restored it, went into administration. New owners rescued half of the chain and she’s back at the helm, with supplies from her father Chris’s Fleetwood seafood business. So go for the Fleece’s fish specials or a sharing plate of fruits de mer. We pushed out the boat and splashed out £69 on two full lobsters as rain swept the terrace. We were happily under cover. Atypical’s the word for that sun-dappled day in Hetton.

Exciting openings have not been plentiful of late. Now we have one. Such is the allure of the re-born Black Friar, reopening on Tuesday, July 27, not even the stormy weather heading our way can zap the al fresco vibe generated by its glorious garden. The short hot summer was at its peak when we got our sneak preview. The rest of the world will inevitably follow.

Hurtling along Trinity Way, you’d be hard pressed to twig the large terrace behind its palisade; ditto the glass-fronted restaurant annexe seamlessly attached to the Victorian sandstone and brick pub, restored to the tune of £1.4m.

Black Friar – Salford heritage among the new build

For two decades, after a devastating fire, it stood desolate on the corner with Blackfriars Street. Not quite an eyesore – if you were a fan of Boddingtons Bitter. As the reputation of the ‘Cream of Manchester’ turned sour under successive corporate owners the prominent two bees logo decked out in yellow and black on the end of the building was a lachrymose reminder of the straw-coloured, fragrantly hoppy nectar the beer once was. 

This may be apocryphal but I’m told Boddies cask was so popular in the Seventies the Black Friar stocked no keg beer or lager. That was an old school Salford boozer; in its latest incarnation it reflects a new apartment block generation colonising the former industrial wasteland. Food-oriented, most definitely. Developers Salboy originally intended it to be a vehicle for star chef Aiden Byrne, but he pulled out as the pandemic struck; in his place is another ex-20 Stories talent, Ben Chaplin.

Still it plugs its pub credentials, honouring the brewery that once belched malt fumes over Strangeways by offering the keg Boddies at £4.50 a pint. A bland brand, it’s brewed by Inbev in Samlesbury; I’d veer towards the excellent wine list instead. 

The trad pub sign also name checks Boddingtons. It features a jolly friar, given a shaggy dog back story on the website (and a chance to proclaim the pub’s Resurrection, thankfully without appropriating the Stone Roses). 

I’d hoped the fashion for this kind of naff narrative self-validation had passed, but hey it’s just a quibble. Let us praise. The Black Friar is a holy exceptional addition to the Manchester/Salford food and drink scene. The first Salford gastropub proper since the demise of Robert Owen Brown’s remarkable Mark Addy.

What immediately impressed on that embryonic lunchtime visit was the quality of service  mustered from a young crew by exuberant Lebanese general manager Remi Khodr. From the immediate water bowl for our chihuahua, Captain Smidge, to the limoncello proffered when our puddings were slightly delayed the experience was a delight.

Probably because Smidge was with us we were seated at a garden table. No hardship but the restaurant proper looked the stylish business. An open kitchen, an abundance of greenery, black and white tiles, marble table tops, all filled with light. 

.A section of the garden – Boddingtons Corner – can be hired for private events, as can the panelled, drawing room-like Sanctuary on the pub’s first floor.

Totally gratuitous image of the Blackfriar. Few pub interiors can match its art nouveau magnificence

As many original features as possible have been retained but alas the shell was vandalised during the lost years. Compare and contrast its namesake in London, the Blackfriar, a masterpiece of art nouveau don by the Thames, built on the site of a real priory. It did serve Boddingtons in its heyday; food has never been a priority.

Under head chef Chaplin it definitely is here. There is to be an upmarket ‘pub food’ menu but we got to sample the ‘restaurant’ offering. Eventually there’ll be a chef’s table on the Black Friar’s second floor. You can see the ambition in what’s on offer already. I have never encountered such an elaborate, deconstructed tiramisu. No wonder it took time to emerge. A honeycomb and gold leaf wow. Equally satisfying was a 72 per cent Valrhona chocolate fondant with peanut butter ice cream across the table.

A starter of juniper-cured ‘au point’ Creedy carver duck was stunning, served with sweet roast cherries and a pickled kohlrabi salad. My Cornish boudin, in contrast struck a drab note, despite the best efforts of basil jelly and some interesting smoked dehydrated watermelon. Little roundels of seafood sausage betrayed hardly a hint of crab.

Main prices are heading premium-wards. £28 for roast Cumbrian rack of lamb, but all the Mediterranean elements of the dish were in harmony – glazed baby aubergine, kalamata olive and confit tomato jus. Smidge loved his substantial tithe.

Perhaps there was too much going on in our other main, a couple of quid more. Wallowing in a polite ‘bouillabaisse’ with a scattering of mussels was a dense seared monkfish fillet. Giving it a flouncy 20 Stories feel was a small flotilla of nasturtium leaves. A mound of squid ink rouille was excessive and would have been unbalancing if I hadn’t shoved half to the side. No matter, this is food worth making the trek for. 

Would I treat it as a pub to drop in for a pint? Doubt it. That’s what The Eagle around the corner is for. And yet… that garden. That first kiss of ‘freedom’. I know how Adam felt. Before the Fall, that eternal lockdown.

The Black Friar, Blackfriars Road, Salford M3 7DH. 0161 667 9555.

Spring 2018 and I’m besotted. The venue a rough and ready moorland pub high above Sowerby Bridge. Not an obvious honeytrap for a tryst and there was precious little flesh on the bones of the object of my desire. A deep-fried herring skeleton on the debut menu was a mission statement for the reinvention of the Moorcock Inn at Norland.

That challenging herring bone that kickstarted the Moorcock experience

Penning the first UK review of Alisdair Brooke-Taylor’s daring fresh take on the UK gastropub I wrote: “North Sea herring season is upon us. All those Dutch and Flemish trenchermen salivating at the prospect of fatty raw fish soused in vinegar or brine. A Yorkshireman’s penchant for pickles stops at onions; herring bone to him is tweed or twill.”

Not real bones, constituting the second course in a £35 tasting menu. One that started weird and became ever more wonderful. They resembled a seahorse or a fossil shape in ammonite. Three winters (and herring seasons) have passed and this take on a Japanese omakase snack has never reappeared.

Mangalitza chop and wild greens – so very Moorcock

The rare breed Hungarian Mangalitza pork that provided the 11 week dry-aged chops that followed has remained on the radar, though. It contributes to the house-cured charcuterie sharing board that is a star attraction in the post-lockdown food offering. Some component have been two years in the making.

This outstanding home cured charcuterie plate is my favourite contemporary snack

It is made up of pork rillettes, hot smoked rare breed ham, Gloucester Old Spot coppa, chicken liver parfait, jellied pork terrine, smoked prunes and toast. All for just £18 a platter. Inevitably you add on a £4.50 portion of their own wholemeal sourdough and cultured butter – like the extensive employment of a huge wood-fired barbecue, a constant since day one (main image).

You can purchase the Moorcock sourdough and cultured butter to take home

Pandemic caution means that tasting menus are shelved for the moment; attention focuses on the daily shifting boards that constitute the bar menu.

There is a walk-in capacity, mind, as Alisdair and drinks-savvy partner Aimee Tufford continue to encourage the pubby (and dog-friendly) side of their now acclaimed foodie destination. I celebrated a recent birthday there with a pint of cask Vocation Bread and Butter Ale from fellow local heroes Vocation and then drank a series of Belgian beers, culminating in an old favourite, Westmalle Tripel (in the proper glass).

Alongside natural wines, the couple are devotees of Belgium’s astonishing beer culture after cutting their culinary teeth at the Michelin-starred In de Wulf restaurant, close to the border with Northern France.

In this unlikely spot legendary chef Kobe Desramualts, with Alisdair as his right hand man, had created a very special place. Just before it closed in 2016 influential website Opinionated About Dining named it third best restaurant in Europe after L’Arpège in Paris and the Basque Country’s Azurmendi.

The kitchen garden in its early day being hewn from the surrounding moorland

Norland may seem an equally unlikely spot but over three years it has developed a similar ‘forage and ferment, cure and preserve’ ethos, utilising their own two acre organic kitchen garden and the surrounding moorlands, which yield mushrooms and wild herbs aplenty.

Alastair’s kipper ties – coming upon a batch of herring smoking merrily away

The garden has evolved spectacularly and the other centrepiece of the Moorcock, the expansive outdoor barbecue is used to increasing effect for cooking with fire or smoking. Lots of chefs – Tomas Parry at Brat notably – have bragging rights here but few do it as well as Alistair and his small team.

The chef’s talents don’t stop here. The various lockdowns gave Alistair the opportunity to hone his talent for ceramics, making glazes with the ash from the burnt charcoal. Now he’s not just providing for the restaurant. From ramen bowls to platters and jugs these have pride of place in an upstairs shop (open during pub hours) that offers gift packs of foodie goodies and, naturally, classic Belgian beers.

This ceramic plate complements this leek, potato and smoked poulet egg pie, topped with Baron Bigod and a radish salad

Lauded in the early days by national critics such as the Observer’s Jay Rayner and  Marina O’Loughlin of the Sunday Times, the Moorcock became a hot ticket. Twisting the metaphor hot tickets get cooler as as fickle critical attention shifts to newer ventures.

The extra pressure of Covid must have been immense. Potter’s kiln aside, Alasdair and Aimee tackled it with a defiant playfulness. I recall their take on a Chinese menu, featuring th likes of their in-house XO sauce and the kind of wild Yorkshire greens you don’t usually find in a black bean stir-fry.

Ever resourceful, the Moorcock turned into a community grocer during lockdown

More straightforwardly they diversified into quality foodie groceries – from Yorkshire asparagus to mixed bags of Cornish sea vegetables to over-wintered jars of their own produce. I recall with fondness Aimee’s rather lovely house Negroni made from a ‘Campari’ she crafted from rosehip, hogweed and clementine, mixed with rose petal wine and Yorkshire gin. It all helped to keep them afloat.

Crucially they kept their core staff together. Sustainable, ethical, pleasurable. What’s not to fall in love with all over again?

Moorcock Inn, Moor Bottom Lane, Norland Moor, Sowerby Bridge HX6 3RP. 01422 832103. Thanks to Joby Catto for the main barbecue picture and other image help.

Last October at home prepping up my Northcote Autumn Gourmet Box I wore the apron that was the legacy of a 2014 Cookery School experience there (I buggered up the Beef Wellington, as I recall). I’ve a soft spot for the place, love the Obsessions festival every January that has brought a global smorgasbord of chefs to this corner of the Ribble Valley and go back further with them than1996 when they won the Michelin star they’ve held ever since.

It’s 38 years since Nigel Haworth and Craig Bancroft were given the chance to turn this Victorian pile into a fine dining mecca with rooms. In the Nineties when Ribble Valley Restaurants were suddenly ‘rock n’ roll’ you were either Haworth or Heathcote (Paul), like being Beatles or Rolling Stones. Well, almost.

Lisa Goodwin-Allen worked her way up to exec chef through the Northcote ranks

Now part of the Stafford Collection luxury portfolio (not a bad thing) Northcote is definitely on the top of its game despite all the constrictions of a pandemic. All helped by the high profile of exec chef Lisa Goodwin-Allen who took on the Great British Menu mantle of her mentor Nigel.

He is doing his own thing these days and, as I write, is about to bring back from the dead The Three Fishes, the groundbreaking regional produce-inspired gastropub he created a few miles up the road at Mitton. Sold on with the rest of the Ribble Valleys Inn Group, it shut in 2019.

Remaining under the new regime, sidekick Craig (ebullient front of house/wine guru) is,  welcoming us this sunlit Thursday lunchtime to sample Lisa’s £95 five-course Spring Gourmet Menu. For lunch you must book it specially. In the evening, as Northcote cuts its cloth to accommodate the current challenges, it’s available either of two sittings, as we await the reintroduction of a la carte.

The revamped terrace gives Northcote fresh options – and it’s a perfect spot for a wedding shot

Encouraging is the buzz a wedding party on the spanking new outdoor terrace. Along with a full house of folk, most of whose own nuptial are decades back, we are consigned to the dining room, which shares the same rural vistas. Hard to credit the busy A59 is only 200 metres away.

The matching wine flight is £53.80. I’m often wary of ceding choice but this is pretty solid, notably two whites – the Abstraction #1 Muscadet Sur Lie from Guerin (with Orkney Scallop) and Redoma Branco from Nierpoort in Portugal’s Douro Valley (Wild Turbot) – and a perfumed Bruno Sourdais Chinon red from the Loire.

Poussin the boat out! Lisa treats the bird to a garlic and allium makeover

The latter was the perfect match for my favourite dish, a Norfolk Poussin. Also known as coquelets, poussins are the baby chickens much cherished by the French. They rarely weigh in above 500g and are perfect for quick grilling. 

My first encounter came courtesy of enterprising online butcher Farmeson and in my home kitchen I followed a recipe from Wild Honey’s Anthony Demetre. This involved spatchcocking – removing the backbone from tail to neck so the bird can be opened out flat – and an overload of garlic and herbs. 

Lisa treats it differently. Garlic featured again, one white blob and a swirl of on-trend black garlic, its long caramelisation imparting a subtle liquorice tone. Hen of the woods mushroom and a baby allium poached in ponzu ramped up the succulence. 

The trim breast and a cute little croquette of leg meat may have lacked the splayed splendour of my effort but they were  delicious testimony to canny UK sourcing. Norfolk poussins are corn-fed and reared ethically for their short lives in Fakenham as an alterntib from importing from France. 

Lisa’s previous course of Wild Turbot feels very spoonable, foamy GBM. It’s another little marvel incorporating clam, cucumber, sea lettuce and dill in a saline-inclusive broth.

Like the whole menu, it sings of the season. I love the sorrel granita that adds a lemony counterpoint to Yorkshire Asparagus (green, from Sand Hutton I’m presuming) and basil gel but also the combo of Isle of White heritage tomato textures that lifts a perfectly seared Orkney scallop.

Amalfi lemon inspired dessert completed a satisfying meal, but could we resist the petits fours?

Admirable restraint, matched to accomplished technique, culminates in a masterly pud celebrating the Amalfi lemon and Limoncello. It’s a work of art that almost convinces me tangy powders and meringue splinters are for me. Still a pretty Michelin-friendly plateful. Which bring us back to the admirable Michelin substitute delivered to us in October 2020 as an alternative to the forbidden delights of restaurant dining.

It was easily the best menu kit we encountered during lockdown. But this recent Northcote visit was proof that nothing can replace the real thing. Especially where washing up by someone else is concerned.

Northcote, Northcote Road, Langho, Blackburn BB6 8BE. 01254 240555. For information on a variety of gourmet breaks visit the website but be warned, plan ahead. They’re full up well into the autumn.

There’s a fascinating interview with Lisa Goodwin-Allen in trade magazine Supper, where she discusses the challenges that have sprung from the pandemic and lockdowns. She also sing the praises of the Norfolk Poussin! Read it here.

Norma, Ben Tish’s love letter to Sicilian food in Fitzrovia, reopened on May 17. This restaurant hosted the last meal I ate in London before lockdown. It was in the company of a dear friend and former colleague, Sarah Hughes, who died this April from the cancer she had endured for so long. We shared so many meals over the years. This review, which couldn’t appear at the time, is in tribute to a great writer. A charitable trust set up in her name has reached its £30,000 target.

They don’t appear to serve a Bellini at Norma, the restaurant that shares the name of that opera composer’s most famous heroine. I’m sure they’d rustle you one up, though this Venetian Prosecco creation is at odds with a cocktail list kicking off with a Saracen. 

There’s a whole North Africa meets Sicily vibe going on here in both decor and menu – in synch with the chef’s last cookbook, Moorish. That he’s no swarthy son of backstreet Palermo but a clean-cut Lincolnshire lad adds to a sense of cultural appropriation about this latest arrival in London’s old boho haunt, Fitzrovia.

Yet there are precedents for English chefs falling in love with food styles from Milan via Malaga to Marrakesh and making them their own. Witness Sam and Sam Clark at Moro or Jacob Kenedy at Bocca di Lupo. In Manchester Yorkshireman Simon Shaw has conquered Spain with El Gato Negro and skirmished into Portugal (Canto) with a Levantine foray, Habas on Brown Street his latest offering.

Ben Tish is on love with the flavours of Sicily and North Africa

By chance Ben, above, was due shortly to appear at our own Northern Restaurant Bar trade show, postponed because of Covid (the influential event is scheduled to return to Manchester Central in March 2022).

At the NRB there would have been a chance to quiz Signor Tish on how he became besotted with the food of Sicily and the culinary tendrils that bind it to Africa’s Barbary Coast – notably through ingredients such as citrus and saffron, pine nuts and almonds, nutmeg and cinnamon. All were in evidence at that Norma dinner.

Pasta alla Norma we had to try. Sicilian in origin, its sharp topping combines tomatoes, aubergine and salted ricotta. The pasta used is negotiable; it’s chunky rigatoni at Norma, which gets its name from this dish, not the tragic opera with its cast of druids in Ancient Gaul. 

Pasta alla Norma is a take on a Sicilian classic

In concept the restaurant is a slightly oddball side project of the Stafford Hotel in St James’s. They hired Ben, once of Salt’s Yard, to cook at their exquisite in-house Game Larder and are now indulging his real food passions.

These were obvious from the first dishes that issued from Norma’s downstairs raw bar, central to the dining experience in this three-storey Georgian townhouse (the top floor is for private dining). 

Sea bream crudo had a hint of saline bottarga about it

We were already nibbling crisp yet fluffy focaccia (£2 apiece) and chickpea panelle (£4.50) – similar to Nice’s socca but with salsa verde – when the wild sea bream crudo (£10) arrived, freshest of fillets doused in a peppery olive oil, a hint of saline bottarga in there, scattered with pomegranate arils.

Creamy saltmarsh lamb crudo (£12) was equally enticing, served with lamb fat crostini and toasted pine nuts. It’s the kind of food I’d yearned for around Palermo’s frenetic Ballarò Market and been disappointed. Instead in the old country we had tackled both Pani ca’ Meusa, a sandwich of lard-fried spleen and ricotta, and grilled skewers of tough cow spleen, lung, and trachea that stink of mortality. Thankfully the Tish Sicily fixation doesn’t go that nitty gritty.

The benchmark red prawns were dense-fleshed divas

The reputation of the red prawns meant they were a must-order. At £16 for four a substantial investment but worth it, dense-fleshed divas, singing of rosemary and orange. They partner surprisingly well a duo of violet artichokes (£12), halved and seared into a deep caramelisation. Alongside a scoop of pine-nut puree for dipping.

A pretty dish, as is Norma’s take on the ubiquitous burrata (£13) that comes in a tangle of red chicory, blood orange croutons and coriander seeds, dressed with fruity vinegar and olive oil. Somewhere along the way we also hoovered up a bowl of frittered spaghettini under a snowstorm of parmesan with more of the cheese and olive oil as a dip. Norma is big on dips.

Caramelised violet artichokes were divine

It seems madness in retrospect that my guest Sarah and I ignored the cannoli option but no regrets about the house sundae for £8.50 – a homely homage to the in-season blood orange, gelato and caramelised, with whipped orange blossom ricotta and biscotta. 

It perhaps needed a Negroni to partner it, but we’d shared a bottle of Cerasuolo di Vittoria red (£42) from high profile Sicilian producer Planeta. It’s blend of Nero d’Avola and the fruitier Frappato. The name comes from the local dialect word for cherry but there’s exotic pomegranate flavours too that so match the food menu.

The Norma house sundae made a fitting finish

Voluptuous is the word for the fit-out, all marble and tiles, rich fabrics and intimate lighting, but avoiding the harem look. Downstairs at least. We explored no further, so engrossed were we in the parade of small plates. They do some obvious mains but this is the better way to explore Sicily. If ultimately the food felt more moreish than truly Moorish who cares? I wish we had its like in Manchester.

Stylish, intimate, the interior really works

Norma, 8 Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia, London W1T 2LS, 020 3995 6224. The prices are as of March 2020.

Unless I’ve missed it previously, Zhug is making a Manchester debut on the menu of Simon Shaw’s eagerly anticipated third restaurant in the city, Habas, which opened in early June in the former Panama Hatty’s site on Brown Street.

Brought by Jews from the Yemen a century ago, Zhug is the Israeli national chilli paste, mixing parsley, coriander, and assorted spices. I first discovered this fiery condiment on the counter of Soho’s vibrant Palomar restaurant and in the pages of Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. I slather it over shawarma; at Habas it accompanies homemade garlic and herb flatbread with hummus.

Potato skins filled with sliced lamb

Other dishes feel very Ottolenghi, the Guardian Weekend readers’ passport to Levantine dinner party heaven. So familiar that maybe it lessens the excitement of Habas. Still what’s not to like about small plates such as Middle Eastern raw slaw with pomegranate molasses; batata harra – spicy fried potatoes with dill sour cream; beetroot hummus with Greek yoghurt and dill (main image); feta cheese, wilted spinach and sunblush tomato filo cigars; spiced lamb ‘jackets’ – fried potato skins filled with spiced lamb, served with mint yoghurt. 

But is it a culinary game changer? One Manchester Confidential reviewer, of Persian heritage, accused it of ‘culinary appropriation’. Fair comment? There may be a certain residual bias against a classically trained Yorkshire chef’s temerity in tackling cuisines not ‘his own’. Certainly Habas is a lurch east from his twist on Shaw’s ‘Iberian-influenced’ food at El Gato Negro (Spanish) and Canto (Portuguese).

Simon Shaw feel the MIddle Eastern project is a natural progression

Shaw is very much aware he is surfing a certain ‘Zhug Zeitgeist’, telling me, a friend and supporter from El Gato’ first stirrings in the Pennine village of Ripponden: “It’s phenomenal just how much people’s appetites have evolved over recent years. 

“Back in the late Nineties you’d have struggled to have found Middle Eastern restaurants outside London. Even there, they existed largely to feed the local community, people from those countries living in the city.

“Times have changed and there’s a whole new wave coming through. It’s an amazing style of food, simplistic but with a real depth of flavour. It’s what excited me about it as a chef and I think it will have really broad appeal.”

Habas cuisine is a picture on a plate

Like El Gato Negro and Canto, the menu centres around a generous number of small plates, coupled with larger dishes and feasting platters. 

“Middle Eastern cuisine has many influences and Habas is a fusion of all,” says Shaw. 

“It’s about ingredients. There are lots of connections to Spanish food, the Syrian lentils, lamb meatballs and spiced aubergine dishes enjoyed at El Gato Negro all lean towards the style of cuisine. I suppose part of my mind was already on it.”

Habas means fava (broad) bean) in Spanish and also is the name of a settlement in the Yemen, where zhug is the relish of choice, no doubt.

Batata harra – spicy fried potatoes with dill and cream

Habas, 43a Brown Street, Manchester M2 2JJ. 0161 470 9375. Opening hours Thursday-Sunday 12pm to late (food service until 10pm, after which we’d recommend continuing with suitably-themed cocktails). Expect opening hours to be extended when the industry’s current staffing issues are resolved.

The bar is the place to try Habas’s cocktails, prepared with a Middle Eastern twist